Last week, the Scottish Borders welcomed a group of Norwegian and Swedish delegates, in a return visit that suggests a positive future for corporate and international tourism in the area. Twenty-one delegates enjoyed a three-day tour of the Borders, exploring the culture, pursuits and stunning scenery of the region.
The visitors work for the VOLT fashion chain in Norway – a large retailer and importer of the Borders’ famous Lyle & Scott products. In 2012, fifteen employees of the company won a competition to sell the most Lyle & Scott knitwear in their shops – the prize: a trip to the Scottish Borders, to learn about the region’s textile history, and to sample what the Borders has to offer. VOLT was so impressed with their time here that they organised another competition to mark the company’s 140th anniversary this year. It’s important to the company that their employees feel connected with the heritage of the products they sell.
‘Part of the goal for the visit was for them to get to know the Borders, and maybe be charmed by the way of life and the scenery,’ explained Morten Erichsen, owner of SMD Holding AS that are exclusive importers of Lyle & Scott products to Norway. ‘Most of all to try to give them a feeling of Scotland.’ They enlisted the help of Ian Walker of Borders Journeys Tour Company, who rose ably to the challenge. ‘I had the same group two years ago – they were actually my very first group,’ Ian recollected. ‘I wanted to make sure that they enjoyed themselves just as much this time.’
To this end, Ian created an itinerary that highlights some of the best that the Borders has to offer – albeit only a three-day snapshot of the wealth of the region. Unmissable, of course, was a tour of the Lyle & Scott woollen mill at Hawick – returning to the roots of a brand which enjoys incredible popularity in Norway and Sweden. After touring the mill, the group enjoyed spending time fly-fishing, archery and clay pigeon shooting – ‘because I never seem to grow up’, Morten admitted.
After setting up what they call a ‘Volt clan’ in 2012, the organisers thought it only appropriate that they should participate in a Highland Games. Returners and newcomers alike got into the spirit of things, as the ‘Care Bears’ took on the ‘Iron Fist’ clan in a much-enjoyed struggle to determine the clan chief. The games were hosted by BlueSky Experiences, a Perth-based company, who were delighted to bring caber tossing, haggis hurling and more to the Borders.
A trip to new visitor centre Born in the Borders showed the delegates that the Borders produces far more than just the high quality knitwear it is known for – with everything from haute couture to furniture to locally brewed beer. The centre’s café is fast developing a reputation for its delicious meals, serving food produced or foraged locally from a kitchen helmed by star chef Gary Goldie. As the newly-fledged company’s first visiting corporate group, reports from their visitors were glowing with many visitors commenting on the fantastic quality of Borders cuisine.
The delegates were delighted with the programme of events and with the Scottish Borders region. ‘I find the Scots to be very friendly and easy going and in many respects much like the Norwegians,’ said Morten enthusiastically. ‘I’ll definitely use Borders Journeys again, and have no problems recommending them to anyone.’ Another return visit definitely seems on the cards.
The unspoilt scenery, the friendly locals and the wealth of activities and attractions of the Scottish Borders open it up to great possibilities as a corporate destination. Local businesses are keen to embrace these possibilities. Mark Wallace is the general manager of the elegant Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, where the Scandinavian group stayed for the duration of their stay. ‘It went tremendously well,’ he enthused. ‘We’ve noticed a real increase in foreign visitors to the Borders – drawn especially by our textiles, but also by a whole number of activities. The Borders has so much to offer the corporate guest.’ The VOLT delegates would seem to agree. ‘They just loved everything’, says the leader of the delegation. It’s a ringing endorsement, and could spell a positive future for tourism in the Borders.
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